In part two of the Dunbridge Chronicles, Neil Fisher returns from ordination inspired by his sense of ministry, but determined to distance himself from the two ladies in his life. This is not altogether well received, and a wide segment of the congregation of St Stephen’s, Dunbridge—including the music group—points Neil to the error of his ways.
Meanwhile Neil’s close friend Colin and his wife, Jeannie, are delighted by the birth of a daughter, but is all well with the baby? Neil’s mother Iris continues to meddle, to his irritation. Churchwarden Peter has said a relieved farewell to his flighty wife Glenda—or has he? Dunbridge is not as peaceful as it seems.
For many years Pam Rhodes has presented the world’s number one religious television program, Songs of Praise. She writes for the Daily Mail’s Femail section, and is also a successful novelist, author of With Hearts and Hands and Voices and four other novels, as well as a number of other books.
I have rather mixed emotions about Casting The Net, the second book in The Dunbridge Chronicles by Pam Rhodes. I very much liked the cast of characters and the charming English village of Dunbridge. I liked the wonderful sense of community that Rhodes has created in the parish of St. Stephens. I also liked the look into how Christianity is lived out in a culture different from my own. But the theology of the book gives me some pause. It definitely got me thinking!
Neil Fisher is a young curate embarking on his second year of potty-training or curacy in the Anglican parish of St. Stephens. He begins with a bit of confusion and hesitation over his abilities as curate and his romantic feelings. By the end of this challenging year, Neil has grown into a more confident and knowledgeable minister. His love life seems settled too, but of course the next book in the series could produce even more challenges for him.
First the pros of Casting The Net. Rhodes has done a wonderful job of creating a village and parish church that teems with life. The characters are very realistic and run the gamut from lovely and loving people to busy-bodies to those who use manipulation to get what they want. You can find these characters in any setting in real life! The triumphs and trials of their lives mirror real life as well. The main character, Neil, is by far my favorite. I liked the way he grew in his understanding of both his congregation and himself, ministering to people with God’s grace. Rhodes also tackles issues that don’t have easy answers — the death of loved ones, divorce and marriage. Culturally, the Anglican church in an English village is much different from my conservative, evangelical church in the Deep South and it was interesting to see what was accepted and what was not. While raising hands and singing praise songs is seen as a bit alien for them, regular visits to the pub and having a pint are a way of life.
Now the cons. When it comes to the theological issues, Rhodes presents views that are all over the spectrum. Neil presents one of the best explanations of why evil exists and God’s rule within a fallen world that I have read. But later in the novel, when faced with someone who does not share his faith, he offers a somewhat vague statement about there being many paths. Neil is a committed Christian, yet I don’t get the sense that he believes it is necessary for salvation. Neil is a bit on the fence when it comes to personal morality. He takes a strong stance in some areas, in others he looks the other way. I find it unusual for a priest not to be concerned with being unequally yoked. Relationships with others seem to take precedence over his relationship with God.
So do I recommend Casting The Net? Maybe. I liked it even though I could not agree with many of its sentiments. I liked the look into a church and community so different from my own. If you liked Jan Karon’s Mitford series, you will probably like this book. If you expect a book to express conservative Christian values, you may want to pass.
(Thanks to Kregel for a review copy. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)
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